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Rolling down the river in transit map style

24 Feb

Check out Daniel P. Huffman’s interpretation of the Mississippi River system, designed in the style of the contemporary transit map. Of course, you are missing the delightful organic twists and turns, but clarity is gained, and it’s all pointing towards New Orleans. I grew up on the St. Croix River, and crossed the Mississippi nearly every single day as an undergrad, as it divided the campus of the University of Minnesota. When I was in grad school, I crossed the Iowa River daily, which divided the campus of the University of Iowa. And though it isn’t pictured on this map (because it runs north into Lake Michigan), I find it continually amusing that I cross the Fox River not once, but twice to get to work each day.

There is something very powerful about a river. They are complex, living things–and they draw a beautiful line, however you choose to interpret it. Boundary, navigational system, watershed….

Huffman is a lecturer on cartography at UW Madison, and has this to say about the project:

Rivers have been a key part of urban life for centuries. They have provided us with drinking water, protection, and a transit network that links us from one settlement to the next. I wanted to create a series of maps that gives people a new way to look at rivers: a much more modern, urban type of portrayal. So I turned to the style of urban transit maps pioneered by Harry Beck in the 1930s for the London Underground. Straight lines, 45º angles, simple geometry. The result is more of an abstract network representation than you would find on most maps, but it’s also a lot more fun. The geography is intentionally distorted to clarify relationships. I think it helps translate the sort of visual language of nature into a more engineered one, putting the organic in more constructed terms. Not every line depicted is navigable, but all are important to the hydrological systems shown.


“No one ever failed to recycle something because they didn’t like the logo”

9 Feb

Above: floating garbage in the Pacific. Recycling doesn’t work if people don’t actually do it.

We are failing miserably at sustainable design. Or so claims this article, sent to me by my husband this morning.

The author, Justin McGuirk, says that “these days designers have a rather different role as societal problem-solvers, leading the way to a cleaner, better future.” He’s right. Our role has been slowly shifting before our eyes. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this over the last few years; I really think it is irresponsible to thoughtlessly produce loads of unnecessary (and unnecessarily disposable) stuff. Bucky Fuller probably put it best in this famous statement: “Do more with less.”

It is also very important to understand the life cycle of your materials. “You have to know the object’s past and future,” writes McGuirk. He points out that plastic, when kept out of the landfill, is often times the most sustainable material around, as it uses less energy to manufacture than metal or glass.

But sustainable design thinking does not have to equal depravation. “The answer,” writes McGuirk,”is to buy fewer things we value more: to design products that endure and that we can repair more cheaply than to replace.” (Note to husband: this is why my fabulous shoes cost so darn much!) And bland brown cardboard might not be the answer after all. According to McGuirk, what we really want are “things with sex appeal, not ones that look as though they are made of Weetabix.”

Compostable yet noisy Sun Chips packaging sacked.

7 Oct

OK, so that was a bad pun. But it’s true: Frito-Lay has axed its compostable Sun Chips packaging. Apparently, it was just too loud. How loud, I’d really like to know. Sales of Sun Chips have reportedly declined sharply since the introduction of the new packaging… which is actually sort of sad.

One moment of snacking ruckus vs. how many years in the landfill?